When we began Lent on Ash Wednesday, we were reminded that prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the last of which is particularly associated with acts of charity, are hallmarks of this season. Each of us, in our own way, use these Lenten practices to grow deeper in our faith and closer to Christ.
The Church calls us to perform acts of charity daily, but during Lent, with its focus on Christ’s ultimate act of love — offering his life to redeem us from sin — that call takes on a deeper and, hopefully, personal meaning.
In our parishes and diocese, we are blessed with multiple examples of Gospel- based charity. On Friday, March 24, I will bless the new offices of Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia in Norfolk. CCEVA is one of two Catholic Charities’ agencies in our diocese, each of which is committed to serving the Hampton Roads community through mental health counseling, family counseling, pregnancy counseling and adoption services. For nearly 90 years CCEVA has exemplified how Christ calls us to serve those in need.
On Tuesday, March 28, I will bless the first St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in our diocese. It will open Saturday, April 15, in North Chesterfield. Because my father was involved in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, I learned from an early age that Vincentians were the “face of Christ” to those they serve. Through the donations it receives and sells, the thrift store will be able to help conferences throughout our diocese provide food, shelter, furnishings and other essential items to those who need them.
The work done by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul reminds us that our charity is meant to be a personal expression of love. In the personal encounter with individuals and getting to know the people who are receiving the charity that the real spiritual richness of our charity is found.
As we undertake our Annual Diocesan Appeal, you will hear and read about the ministries and outreach your contributions support. One area that speaks to our ongoing acts of charity is the Fuel and Hunger Fund. Every year the Pastors’ Advisory Committee, which develops the case statement for the appeal, has recommended an increase to the amount of money designated for this fund. This year $550,000 will be appropriated because the need for this form of support has increased.
I hear from pastors in various parts of the diocese about parishioners who cannot afford the essentials that most of us take for granted. Our response to those in need is found in Matthew 25:31-46. It can be nothing less.
When I travel throughout our diocese and visit parishes, I am grateful to learn about the acts of charity being done. When parishes distribute food from their pantries and furnishings and clothing from their collections, when they offer meal programs and when they take the Holy Eucharist to the homebound, they have a personal encounter with those in need. They are demonstrating to those they meet that the Gospel is the living word of God.
Charity — our unconditional willingness to act for the good of others — is always a remedy to help us overcome our sin because it helps us to overcome our selfishness. God’s love for us in Christ is the starting and ending point of our acts of charity.
As we prayerfully and sacrificially make our way through Lent, let us consider what Pope Francis shared with members of Pro Petri Sede (“For the See of Peter”), an association that supports the work of the Holy See, on Friday, Feb. 24: “[God’s] spirit, the source of generosity, will always urge us to give to those in need, to fight poverty with what he gives us. For the Lord gives us in abundance so that we in turn can give ourselves.” [Emphasis added]